Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Rio flame stops at UN camp

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2016 | 4:00 AM

ATHENS, Greece (AP):

If they had a home, refugees would belong to the world's 24th most populous nation, just behind Italy. Yesterday, there were honoured as members of the Olympic family.

The Olympic flame, on a 106-day journey from the game's ancient birthplace in southern Greece to Rio de Janeiro, made a symbolic stop at a United Nations-run refugee camp in Athens. The torch was carried by Syrian refugee Ibrahim Al-Hussein.

The 27-year-old ran with a prosthetic limb fitted below his right knee, and said he was thrilled to get the invitation.

"This is such an honour for me. This is for every Syrian and ever Arab who has gone through so much," Al-Hussein said afterwards, following chaotic scenes at the camp as he was surrounded by cameramen and refugees using smartphones to take photos and selfies.

"My message to them is not just to stay in refugee camps and to do nothing, but to go after their dream."

IOC President Thomas Bach visited the Athens camp in January to promote a refugee sports programme, aimed at identifying elite competitors, who can qualify for a refugee team to compete in the Rio Games.

A team of five to 10 athletes is scheduled to be selected by the IOC in early June. The refugee team will march behind the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.

STRICT BORDER CONTROLS

Greece has been hard hit by the migration crisis that escalated dramatically in 2015.

More than 1 million people have travelled in dinghies and mostly unsafe boats from Turkey to the Greek islands. More than 50,000 remain trapped here after European countries imposed strict border controls.

The Rio flame was lit in Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Games in southern Greece, last week. It arrives in Brazil on May 3, and will be relayed across the vast country by about 12,000 torchbearers before the opening ceremony at Rio's Maracana Stadium.

The flame will be handed to Rio Games organisers at a ceremony in Athens Wednesday, the marble Panathinian Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.